Other senior Senate parliamentary officers
Throughout any sitting day, two senior Senate officers must be on duty at the table of the Senate, deputising for the Clerk or Deputy Clerk, to assist with the conduct of proceedings and provide procedural advice. Apart from the Clerk or Deputy Clerk, four senior departmental officers share most of the chamber duties: Clerk Assistant (Table), Clerk Assistant (Procedure), Clerk Assistant (Committees) and the Usher of the Black Rod. Depending on chamber requirements, these officers sit in either the Clerk’s or the Deputy Clerk’s chair. They in turn are assisted by other procedural specialists, all of whom sit in the Deputy Clerk’s chair.
While on duty in the Senate, the officers keep notes of Senate proceedings as they occur. At the end of the sitting day these notes are used to help compile business items for the Senate Notice Paper (the complete listing, or formal agenda, of business before the Senate). The officers collect and process all the papers presented by senators. This involves the recording and cataloguing of each document that is tabled (or presented) to permit later access and retrieval by senators or the public as required. While on duty in the Senate, the officers provide senators with all manner of advice relating to the work of the Senate and its committees.
The House of Representatives and the Senate communicate with each other in writing by message. Messages may include advice that a House has agreed to a bill, has amended a bill, or taken action affecting a joint committee, such as appointing committee members or starting new inquiries. In the Senate the officers on duty at the table receive and arrange the processing of messages from the House of Representatives, which are delivered by the Serjeant-at-Arms. When the Senate sends a message to the House, the officers record the dispatch of the message in a ledger kept in the Senate and arrange for the Usher of the Black Rod to deliver the message to the House.
Time limits apply when senators speak during certain debates. Officers at the table are responsible for operating the clocks used to monitor these time limits and also to time the ringing of the bells calling senators to attend a division or a quorum in the chamber. When a division is called, the names of the senators who disagree with the motion to be decided on by the Senate (the “Noes”) are recorded by the officer in the Deputy Clerk’s chair at the time.
As well as the duties performed at the table in the Senate, each of the four most senior officers is responsible for managing the day-to-day functions of an office of the Department of the Senate. Three of these officers, the Clerks Assistant, like the Deputy Clerk, are authorised by the standing orders to carry out the functions of the Clerk in the absence of the Clerk:
The Clerk Assistant (Table) heads the Table Office which provides procedural and administrative support for the conduct of business in the Senate chamber. This support includes programming business in the chamber and providing procedural advice to the government, processing legislation, an inquiry and distribution service, producing key chamber documents including the Order of Business (the Senate ‘Red’—a guide to all matters likely to be dealt with by the Senate on a particular sitting day), the Journals of the Senate, and the Notice Paper, and providing secretariat support to certain committees. The Table Office is responsible for recording and storing every document presented to the Senate and maintaining an archive of all documents presented since the Senate first met in 1901. The office also keeps comprehensive on-line statistics. The Clerk Assistant (Table) is also Secretary of the Selection of Bills Committee, the committee responsible for recommending to the Senate the referral of legislation to Senate committees for inquiry and report (often including public consultation).
The Clerk Assistant (Procedure) heads the Procedure Office which provides procedural advice and legislative drafting services for bills and amendments to non-government senators. As well as these duties, the Clerk Assistant (Procedure) manages the Parliamentary Education Office, which provides education services to schools, teachers and students; the secretariat compiling the Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate; the Research Section, which examines matters of parliamentary, historical and constitutional significance and delivers parliamentary information services to the community; and two legislative scrutiny committees: the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, and the Scrutiny of Bills Committee.
The Clerk Assistant (Committees) heads the Committee Office which provides procedural and administrative support for most Senate committees and for some joint committees. The Clerk Assistant (Committees) and the Senior Clerk of Committees provide procedural advice to senators and committee staff and coordinate the provision of staff and administrative resources for all secretariats.
The Usher of the Black Rod heads the Black Rod’s Office which provides administrative and information technology support services for senators and departmental staff, administrative support to the chamber, departmental corporate support and security advice. The Usher of the Black Rod and Deputy Usher of the Black Rod perform particular duties in the chamber as well as serving as table officers. They also provide procedural, security, administrative and ceremonial advice. More background about the historical traditions of the position of the Usher of the Black Rod can be found in Usher of the Black Rod (Senate Brief No. 16).
The Department of the Senate comprises about 180 staff who provide procedural and administrative support to the President, senators and their staff for the operation of the Senate and its many committees. All departmental staff are employed under the Parliamentary Service Act 1999.